What does it mean to be an outsider? There is something about the margins that perpetually fascinates, and work exploring this has had an impact upon the development of modern art that cannot be understated. This summer, High Museum, Atlanta, shows work by over 80 practitioners who have come from non-traditional backgrounds to establish themselves as important voices across the 20th and 21st centuries. A significant proportion of this is taken from the gallery’s own impressive collection of folk and self-taught art, offering a fascinating insight into the increasing importance of peripheral work in contemporary curatorial practice.
Some of those featured, such as Kara Walker (b.1969) are now very well known. Her insightful takes on race and gender saw her receive – with some controversy – a MacArthur “genius” grant at the age of just 27. Since then, she has continued to develop a global profile and is recognised as a vital, incendiary voice on contemporary concerns. To see her work, such as Exodus of Confederates from Atlanta (2005), featured with the gentle, meticulous paintings of Morris Hirshfield (1872-1946), for example, could initially seem incongruous.
His gloriously rounded Tiger (1940) is modelled upon textile design and children’s illustrations. Hirshfield only began producing work in the last ten years of his life, having retired from employment as a slipper manufacturer. Of course, these particular pieces do not sit side by side (the galleries are divided into three historical periods). But the point stands: each figure in this exhibition is linked, in fact, by their disconnect from the mainstream and, in turn, their capacity to galvanise and shape the direction of the art world through explorations of difference and diversity.
Outliers and American Vanguard Art is at High Museum of Art, Atlanta from 24 June to 30 September. Find out more.
1. Cindy Sherman (American, born 1954), Untitled Film Still #6, 1977, gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York.